Juxtaposition

One of the themes with which I like to play in my stories is juxtaposition.

Trait (or character) juxtaposition can manifest in different ways. In the last big story I wrote (1 More Chance!), the heroine is a small-town girl who falls for a big-city boy. Nothing new, there…except she was the fighter (and the dominant) in this relationship, while her boyfriend filled the role of gentle artist (and submissive, for the most part). During the course of the story, though, they ended up changing roles depending on the situations that arose, and they learned you don’t have to be just one type of person or another. They grew together to trade off responsibilities and character traits, where warranted.

I prefer these relationships.

One of the aspects of “typical” romances that really bugs me is how women (seemingly) have to be powerful in business, money, skills, whatever, and then the man (usually) breaks them down into a damsel, for sake of the typical role fulfilment. When I wrote 1 More Chance!, I was dealing with pre-conceived characters, so I was thankfully able to ignore that. With Fearless, the situation is different.

I wanted Amber to be a strong woman. But I didn’t want to make her powerful. Part of what Ross (the main character and point of view) finds so alluring about her is that she’s audacious, worldly, and intrepid…but she’s still very much a girl. She likes clothes and shoes and wants to be pretty. She also wants to prove herself (and that gets her into trouble). But she isn’t someone who threatens or emasculates him, which is what I see many supposedly “strong” women characters do to men.

I’m perhaps playing into a more masculine mentality with this story, and that will likely alienate romance readers. But Amber as she is feels so true to me. I don’t want to make her a genius or a tough fighter or something else that feminism might demand me to do with her, to make her more modern.

And I really enjoy writing the role reversals that come with the conflict of the story. Not only does it show what Amber’s capable of…but it lets Ross grow, too.

I’m interested to see what my beta readers think of Ross and Amber (and the rest of the crew) when they get to reading it. Not that I think I’ll be willing to change who they are. Because I’m just stubborn like that.

What are your feelings on “strong” women?

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6 thoughts on “Juxtaposition

  1. This is going to be difficult for me to give an opinion on “strong” women without remembering all the sexism I’ve dealt with.

    I will say that I like it when the characters find a nice balance of both femininity and masculinity. I like it when girls aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves, and I like it when guys aren’t afraid to get in touch with their feelings. It just means that they have more in common with each other and have a better understanding of each other.

    Like you, I hate when a “strong” woman gets whittled down into a damsel when a guy swoops in. I do wonder if she does so willingly to get the guy, or if the guy does it for the gender role.

    But then, I guess if she doesn’t start to lean towards the damsel, she’ll just turn into a “guy buddy,” or whatever it’s called.

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    • I see where you’re coming from, with the strength issue. I do agree that a strong woman is just so much more likable than a weak one. I guess I should have clarified that a woman who is emotionally strong can be just as provocative and winning as one who is capable of “beating a man at his own game,” as it were. Like, one trend I seem to see a lot is a woman who is just as much a flirt as a guy, and then they clash. That’s so…irritating. I mean, who wants to read about two shallow individuals? Unless they can influence each other into seeing that there’s more to life and love than just the flirting. (I like strong emotional cores.)

      Kujikawa Rise is a good example of what I want to portray. She’s very much a girly-girl…but I also identify with her as a woman who knows what she wants out of life and has the guts to pursue it. And, she’s not afraid to speak her mind and be emotional. I think that makes her just as strong as Chie, Yukiko, Naoto, or any other female in that story. Even Kuma (as I wrote her, anyway) was a naif, but she stood up for herself and for her friends when she needed to do.

      Amber doesn’t exist in that kind of world of adventurers. She’s still a thrillseeker in some ways, but I would hope that readers are comfortable with her being “just” gentle and balanced, as opposed to being a powerhouse, genius, or manipulative slut/bitch.

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      • Emotional strength… Hm. What exactly does it mean to be emotionally strong? Is it where a person is not afraid to display a wide range of emotions, or do they have better control at hiding them? Oh wait, the example with Rise makes it pretty clear. Sorry.

        I think I’m all right with your Amber. She sounds like someone that’s easy to get along with, and yet fun to have some adventures with. I’ve found that the female characters who are more gentle and yet emotionally powerful are the ones I like the best. Like, you’d expect that they’re just going to be push-overs, but then they just come as a surprise when they say no.

        Crud, did I explain that properly, or was I even on-topic?

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  2. I like strong women, too. It’s funny because I ran into a huge conflict in my writing group over my female protag. The story kicks off with her being “weak” and afraid to stand up for herself. The idea was to have her undergo a series of events that test her character and ultimately strengthen her so that at the end she makes the decision to finally stand up for herself. In other words, she changed, and she gets what she wants at the end.

    A fellow group member couldn’t stand the fact my protag was weak to begin with and had a very difficult time watching her make poor choices. She said because she’s weak, she’s unlikeable.

    Strong characters are helpful to carry books, but not necessary. I think weakness is more common in humans than strength but I also think that strength comes in disguise–the mere desire to change is a sign of strength.

    I like the sound of your character Amber, and I think it will be interesting to see how she handles or even mishandles her strength.

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    • I agree that weakness tends to be more prevalent in people, and I’m much more interested in a story where a person needs to overcome weakness of some sort (not necessarily conquer it, either), than I am interested in a hero or heroine who can do no wrong.

      Your female protagonist sounds interesting, too! I find I read characters both male and female as representations of my viewpoint. Many of my own are based loosely on personalities I know (family, friends), so I always try to imagine them with real voices and such. I’ve known people like your protagonist, and I think their hardships are part of who they are. Whether they end up making the final decision of happiness on their own or that outcome finds them, I can appreciate the journey they take to get there.

      Thanks for commenting, Kate. You always add such interesting insight. πŸ™‚

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